First Peoples of Virginia

The Powhatan Peoples


Powhatan, sitting in state, from John Smith's 1622 map.

The Algonquians lived in chiefdoms and paramount chiefdoms throughout what is now the Coastal Plain of Maryland and Virginia, including the Eastern Shore.

Before the arrival of English settlers at Jamestown, Wahunsunacock rose to prominence as a mamanatowick, or great spiritual leader. He expanded the area of his control from six to thirty-two communities, ranging along what are now the Virginia shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Also known as Powhatan, he maintained loyalty through a complex system of tribute and kinship. He and his people interacted with the English and permitted them to erect a fort they called Jamestown.